(No pictures again today since I spaced out about them and didn´t put them on my flash drive. Next time!)
So it’s been a while! There’s lots to catch you up on. We’re over halfway through with training, and the pace has definitely picked up; if it was busy before, it’s twice as busy now, what with youth group meetings (and getting the youth group to prepare their own charla to give in public), designing and giving a health survey in our communities, traveling to different parts of Nicaragua, more charlas in the health center and schools, and trying (and failing) not to worry about our site placements.
My visit to the mountains of Jinotega was relatively uneventful, except for missing my bus stop in Estelí and having to hike back along the carretera to where I was supposed to catch my next bus -- travel here is a little more difficult since no one announces the bus stops and more often than not there aren’t any signs marking them. But I made it to the site in the end, after about four hours on relatively even, paved roads and two on a narrow dirt road winding into the mountains. Our bus went extraordinarily gingerly, which was gratifying and nervewracking all at once: there is a joke here that school buses from the US go to Guatemala to die, and after they die in Guatemala they’re sent here.
Other than one flat tire the bus ride wasn’t actually that bad, except for the dust (and the fact that my legs didn’t fit in a school bus seat when I was still riding them to school, let alone now). We’re going into the hottest part of the dry summer season now, so everything is brown and the dust is pretty thick.
The site I visited was a quiet little town tucked away in a valley with lots of coffee and bananas, and not much to do except walk around and talk to people, which I did a lot of with the volunteer I visited. We went to the health center and the local casa materna (there is a whole network of these houses slowly being built up in Nicaragua for pregnant women to stay in during their last two weeks of pregnancy, in an effort to promote institutional births and thereby cut the rate of maternal and infant mortality) and to the school, but mostly we had conversations -- with a biologist who works for the municipal government, with street vendors and pulperia owners; with anyone, really, who wanted to talk to us. Nicaraguans in general are incredibly friendly people; they invite you into their homes and feed you whatever’s on hand, which in the north is usually tortillas, cuajada (a soft, salty cheese), and the ever-present gallo pinto and coffee or fruit juice which is generally one part coffee or juice and three parts sugar. My teeth ache a little just thinking about it.
The week we returned to our training towns, we went to Masaya to have our site fair and to visit the old market and the volcano Masaya is famous for. We now have a packet and basic information on the sites we’ll be sent to after swearing-in, which has upped my nerves exponentially, and we got to see a little more of Nicaragua, which is always welcome. We didn’t end up seeing much of the market, but the volcano was beautiful in a very stark sort of way. Pictures can’t really capture the size of it, or the feeling you get driving up to it over rolling hills where there’s nothing but black volcanic rock and red earth. (It doesn’t capture the sulfur smell, either -- we could only spend twenty minutes on the top of the volcano trying to look through the smoke into the crater, since Vulcán Masaya is still active and belches out quite a bit of gas.)
This past week we’ve been busy with a second round of language interviews to measure our progress -- we have to reach an intermediate level to qualify for service as a volunteer -- and with the normal ins and outs of daily language classes, youth group meetings, and charlas in the health center. Thursday was especially busy: I gave a 16-minute charla on hygiene in front of 19 people I’d never met before who were able to understand me, followed by language class and interviews, followed by an hour and a half long charla on the reproductive systems with our youth group in which we made the boys race against the girls to identify the organs and their functions -- things I never could have even hoped to do two months ago. And yesterday we traveled back up into the mountains as a group, this time to Matagalpa to visit a couple who are ending their service in a few weeks time so we could see the work they’ve done in the casa materna there. The bus ride was just this side of being excruciatingly long (we left at 5:30am and didn’t get back until 7:30pm) but it was fun to be all together as a training group, and interesting to see another site in action.
It’ll be good training, too, for next week, when we travel to Chinandega for four days to learn about and work with HIV/AIDS prevention. Chinandega shares a border with Honduras, which has a high rate of HIV/AIDS for this region, and Chinandega has one of the highest rates of HIV in Nicaragua, so there’s lots of work to be done there in terms of education and prevention. Chinandega also happens to be the hottest part of Nicaragua, and we are going during the hottest part of the year, so we may all melt, but if not I’ll be back next weekend with pictures from our trip and about twice the level of nervous excitement I have now -- our site placement is next Monday (which is, incidentally, the Ides of March... hopefully the day will go better for us than it did for Caesar!).